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International Development

Volume 531: debated on Wednesday 13 July 2011

The Secretary of State was asked—

Smallholder Farmers (Climate Change)

1. How much and what proportion of his Department’s funding for climate change adaptation and mitigation projects it has provided to smallholder farmers in the last 12 months. (65536)

Smallholder farmers are particularly vulnerable to climate change. Fifty per cent. of the United Kingdom’s £1.5 billion fast-start commitment will help developing countries to adapt to it, and a significant share will benefit smallholder farmers. In Kenya, for instance, we support research on improved early warning so that farmers can adjust their cropping strategies to increase production.

Two weeks ago 20 pastoralists were killed in central Somalia following a dispute about access to water for their livestock, and people are starving and dying now as a result of the terrible drought and famine in the horn of Africa. Will the Minister press for a specific day to be set aside for discussion of smallholder farmers and food security at the upcoming COP 17, the 17th United Nations conference on climate change?

As I am sure the hon. Lady knows, we do not control the agenda, but she has made a powerful representation—which others will hear—in suggesting that priority should be given to the plight of smallholder farmers at that important meeting. In particular, it must be ensured that the cause of disputes which can get in the way of humanitarian aid is not perpetuated.

Has the Minister had any discussions with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs about the possibility of using his own Department’s expertise to advise United Kingdom farmers on climate change mitigation?

Read-across does take place when a huge commitment is made to research enabling DFID to help smallholder farmers. For instance, the Foresight report, which was commissioned by the Government, benefited from a great deal of expertise drawn from UK farmers. The result has been of mutual benefit, which is another reason for concluding that the aid programme is in our mutual interests.

Does the Minister agree that most climate-related finance should take the form of grants rather than loans? That is only fair to people in developing countries who suffer from the effects of climate change but who, in the main, did not cause it. Will the Minister tell us what proportion of our climate-related finance takes the form of loans rather than grants?

As I am sure the hon. Lady will recognise, to start from the premise that finance should take the form of either loans or grants is to start at the wrong end of the question. The first question that should be asked is “What will best achieve the desired result and give the most help to vulnerable smallholder farmers?” That said, most of the finance does take the form of grants, and, as the hon. Lady knows, 50% of it is being provided through the international climate fund to help smallholder farmers to adapt.


From 2012, DFID’s work in Burundi will focus on supporting regional integration into the east African community through the British-led organisation TradeMark East Africa, which has opened an office in Burundi which DFID is funding. That is the right way for us to help the people of Burundi, rather than aid being provided through a small, expensive and duplicatory bilateral programme.

During a recent visit to Burundi, the vicar of Romsey and a group of parishioners found that one of the biggest problems was a critical lack of access to fresh water. Would the Secretary of State be prepared to meet them to discuss what they found, and how aid can be provided most effectively?

My hon. Friend has made a good point. I believe that I met the vicar during a visit at the time of the general election, but I, or one of my fellow Ministers, would be happy to meet him and some of my hon. Friend’s constituents to discuss this important matter.

The Secretary of State did not say in his opening remarks that Britain is winding down its aid programme in Burundi, a country in which more than 80% of the population live on less than $1.25 a day. What specific assurances can he give that other donors will take up the programmes in which Britain has been involved in so far?

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that Germany, Belgium and France have much larger bilateral programmes in Burundi than Britain. We are providing only 3.6% of the funding through our bilateral programme, but we have to make tough decisions about how we spend our budget. It is, after all, hard-earned taxpayers’ money, and we do not think it provides good value for money to have such a small programme with such high administrative expenses. I can tell the hon. Gentleman, however, that through multilateral support over the next few years Britain will spend about double the sum of the old bilateral programme.

Bilateral Aid (India)

3. What assessment he has made of the performance of his Department’s bilateral aid programmes with Indian states. (65538)

The bilateral aid review demonstrates that DFID’s programmes with Indian states yield strong development results with good value for money. The Independent Commission for Aid Impact will evaluate the India programme as part of its work in 2011.

I welcome the Secretary of State’s response. He has recently been urged to discontinue aid to India, but does he agree that for as long as India continues to have a third of the world’s poor living within its borders, we will never achieve the millennium development goals unless that aid continues?

The hon. Gentleman is right: India is a development paradox, as I have said before, and we are right to continue the programme for now. We have frozen the figure for the next four years, and we are moving to work only in the poorest states in India. As the hon. Gentleman has implied, there are more poor people in India than in the whole of sub-Saharan Africa.

Will my right hon. Friend accept the International Development Committee recommendation to put more resources into sanitation and nutrition, as they have been shown to be the prime cause of poverty? Half the population of India has no access to sanitation and malnutrition rates among Indian children are among the worst in the world.

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. Half the children in the state of Bihar are suffering from malnutrition. His point about the programme is a good one. We are looking at increasing the amount we spend on water and sanitation, and all of us are extremely grateful for the strong all-party support his Committee gave to the Government policy on aid and development in India.


4. What recent assessment he has made of the humanitarian needs of the people of Gaza; and if he will make a statement. (65539)

The situation in Gaza is unacceptable and unsustainable. Perversely, the current access regime benefits Hamas and punishes the ordinary people of Gaza. In the last fortnight, I visited Israel and the west bank, as did the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for North East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt), who also visited Gaza. We both urged Israeli Ministers to recognise that the restrictions are not in Israel’s interests and should be lifted.

I thank the Minister for that reply. First, I am sure that my constituent, David Cole, who is currently in Gaza would like me to use this opportunity to thank those Government officials who eventually helped him to be able to get there. However, I know that he is concerned that the number of trucks going into Gaza is about a third less than the number that were able to go in before the blockade. I am glad the Minister has already made representations, but will he specifically ask the Israeli and Greek Governments why they will not allow unarmed humanitarian volunteers to deliver medical supplies to Gaza by boat, through the flotilla?

I thank the hon. Lady for her appreciative comments. It is the case that about 30 times more cement and 10 times more steel goes into Gaza through Hamas-controlled tunnels than through the crossings. At the current reconstruction rate, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency estimates it will take 78 years to rebuild Gaza. We put confidence in the conversations between Prime Minister Netanyahu and the Quartet representative Tony Blair, which took place in May, and hope they can have a more successful outcome than they have had so far.

Is it not true that more people enter Gaza from Egypt than from the tunnels in Israel? What can the Government do to stem this humanitarian crisis?

My hon. Friend is in some sense right, although the tunnels are in Egypt, not at the normal crossings from Israel. The volume of goods and mostly people—[Interruption.]

Order. I apologise for interrupting the Minister of State. I have been listening to the Minister of State for 20 years, and I want to carry on enjoying listening to him, and I want to be able to hear him.

Thank you, Mr Speaker; we are halfway there, perhaps.

My hon. Friend is right to say that much more comes in through the tunnels than through Israeli-approved access points. Perversely, that is assisting Hamas, which is something we would like to reverse.

Six months after the Arab spring, what discussions has the Minister had with the Egyptian authorities about relaxing the restrictions at the Rafah border crossing to ensure that essential humanitarian assistance can get into Gaza?

That is primarily a matter for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. I have not had any such discussions, but I have had discussions with Israeli Ministers. As I said a moment ago, I hope that the representations made by the Quartet representative, Tony Blair, to Prime Minister Netanyahu can ease many of the restrictions that the Israelis are currently imposing.


5. What recent assessment he has made of his Department’s performance in the prevention and treatment of tuberculosis in developing countries. (65540)

The UK has contributed to significant global progress in reducing deaths and illness from tuberculosis. Globally, 41 million people have been successfully treated since 1995, saving 6 million lives. The UK reaffirmed its commitment to tackling TB, including co-infection TB-HIV, in “UK aid: Changing lives, delivering results” and in the UK’s position paper on HIV in the developing world. A paper on our broader approach to health, including TB, will be published later this year.

I thank the Minister for his answer and welcome the commitment to addressing TB-HIV co-infection. When will the future health paper be published? When will stakeholders be consulted on it? Will there be specific targets on the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of TB where patients are not co-infected with HIV?

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her question. It is very important to recognise that there has been no de-prioritisation of TB, as a huge amount of effort is being made to tackle it. That broader health context and the paper that will appear later this year will set out the priorities and how we will attempt to ensure that we are pushing on the right things to bring down the incidence of TB, which is falling globally. Most importantly, we need to recognise that this depends on the interrelationship with other workings of the health systems.

Does the Minister agree that one of the ways in which we will deal with the problems of global TB is through the development of new treatments? Is he aware of the work being done at the university of Strathclyde? Will he ensure that representations are made to ensure that research into the development of new TB drugs is continued?

I am very grateful to the hon. Lady for that. She is right to pinpoint the fact that one of the difficulties in tackling TB is the emergence of very resistant strains. We are well aware of the research being done at the university of Strathclyde and elsewhere, which has a close link with the very big research commissioning programme for which DFID is responsible. I will be more than happy to pursue that in more detail later on.

Official Development Assistance

6. What timetable he has set for the introduction of legislation to provide that 0.7% of gross national income is spent on official development assistance. (65541)

The coalition Government have set out in the comprehensive spending review how we will meet our commitment to spend 0.7% of national income as overseas aid from 2013. We have made it clear that we will enshrine that commitment in law as soon as the parliamentary timetable allows.

I thank the Secretary of State for that comprehensive answer, and I wish that all his Cabinet colleagues were quite as enthusiastic and as committed. But can he give us a firm date, as “in the fullness of time” simply is not good enough in these circumstances?

The hon. Gentleman, who is enormously experienced in the ways of Parliament, will know that that is not a matter for me as the Secretary of State for International Development; it is a matter for the business managers and the usual channels. I suggest that he refers his question, on an appropriate occasion, to one of them.

Any Government can spend as much money as they want on overseas aid if they want to do so. Lots of Departments have very important priorities, so why do we have to have a specific target in law for overseas aid and not for anything else? Is this not just ludicrous gesture politics, rather than anything that is actually meaningful?

My hon. Friend is right to this extent: we could spend this hard-earned budget twice over, because there is need that we could satisfactorily address. But the world, many years ago, settled on a figure of 0.7%, and all of us have made a promise to stand by that commitment and the Government are absolutely right, even in these difficult economic circumstances, not to seek to balance the books on the backs of the poorest people in the world.

Order. Far too many noisy private conversations are taking place on both sides of the House. I want to hear Harriet Harman.

I strongly support the Secretary of State on the points he made. Will he join me in making the point that our aid is vital in the terrible situation for the people in the horn of Africa, where there is suffering on a massive scale? Will he also join me in paying tribute to the generosity of the British people in response to the Disasters Emergency Committee appeal? I strongly welcome his rapid response on Ethiopia, but what steps is he taking to ensure that other countries play their part, too, and what help is he giving to the people suffering in Somalia and Kenya?

I thank the right hon. and learned Lady for her support. We are looking very carefully at how we can assist in Somalia, particularly in the south-central region where there is a weight of people crossing the border into northern Kenya. I expect to visit the region shortly to see what additional assistance can be given. The right hon. and learned Lady is also right that although there has been strong British leadership in all this, it is essential that other countries that can help put their shoulders to the wheel, too. We spend a lot of our time ensuring that others do precisely that.

Horn of Africa

7. What recent assessment he has made of the food situation in the horn of Africa; and if he will make a statement. (65542)

Up to 10 million people need emergency relief, especially in south-east Ethiopia, southern central Somalia and northern Kenya. We are seeing acute malnutrition in all these places. The crisis is provoked by the failure of the rains for two consecutive years and is characterised by the loss of crops and livestock, exacerbated by high food prices. The situation is unlikely to improve before the October rains.

Will the Secretary of State set out the steps that his Department is taking to build long-term resilience in the national agricultural systems in the countries in the horn of Africa so as to reduce the impact of potential crises such as the one they face?

My hon. Friend is right to make it clear that food security over the longer term is the key way to tackle such disasters. It is also true, however, that it is no fault of the horn of Africa that there have been no rains for the past two years and that a serious situation has been exacerbated by that. I can tell him that there has been significant progress and over the past 20 years, for example, the incidence of acute malnutrition in Ethiopia has gone down by some 50%.

The Minister does not have to visit the region to know what the problem is. Every night on television we are seeing children dying, the elderly dying and livestock dying—it is obvious what is happening. The aid agencies are short of money and surely we can do more right now.

I can reassure the right hon. Lady. We were the first people to make it clear that we would give strong support, helping 1.3 million people in Ethiopia and ensuring that mothers with babies and children—330,000 of them—would receive rapid support. The Disasters Emergency Committee appeal has kicked into play and we are considering additional support to that which we are already giving to take account of the situation that she described in southern Somalia and particularly in Dadaab, which is now the biggest refugee camp in the world.

The House is full, everybody is chattering, everybody is obsessed by Murdoch but millions of people are in danger of dying in the horn of Africa. Will my right hon. Friend assure me that this is an absolute priority for him and that all the bureaucratic restraints that stop help going in this uniquely challenging environment—usually useful things such as value for money and protecting our workers—will be laid aside and that he will go right in there and help those suffering people?

My hon. Friend has eloquently made the case for the world taking urgent action to ensure that what is currently a crisis does not develop into a disaster. He has my assurance that the British Government are doing everything they can to help and I will, as I say, be going to Dadaab at the weekend with the head of the Disasters Emergency Committee appeal. Together, we will look to see what additional work Britain and the international community can do to help.

Topical Questions

We are delivering the results agenda through our 27 bilateral programmes and we are working to tackle the emergency unfolding in the horn of Africa. We are acting quickly and decisively, as I have said, to prevent this crisis from becoming a catastrophe. We are also continuing to co-ordinate Britain’s contribution to post-conflict stabilisation in Libya for the time when the fighting is over. Since our last Question Time, Britain has chaired and led the drive to fund the next stage of the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation for the poor world.

I thank the Secretary of State for his response. With a record number of countries applying for vaccine funding from GAVI, what results does he expect to be achieved following last month’s success at London’s pledging conference of Ministers, business leaders and charities?

My hon. Friend is right that the conference was an extraordinary success—exceeding the pledge target of $3.7 billion by some $600 million. As a result, the world will be able to vaccinate a quarter of a billion children over the next five years. Britain will vaccinate a child every two seconds and save a child’s life every two minutes as a result of this initiative.

I am sure that all Members will join me in congratulating South Sudan on achieving independence at the weekend. The Government of South Sudan are now planning to review all their international oil contracts. Does the Minister agree that although our aid is important for desperately poor people in South Sudan, it is vital that global oil companies pay their fair share of their profits in tax in that country? Will he ensure that DFID uses its expertise to help South Sudan to get fair tax returns from the oil companies?

The hon. Gentleman is right that that country has just been born and has $1.7 billion of revenues, and it is essential that the money is used transparently. Britain is a very strong leader on the extractive industries transparency initiative and my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer has made it clear that he expects the European Union to look at how it can develop its own version of the Dodd-Frank legislation that has been laid in the United States.

T6. Will my right hon. Friend update the House on the progress being made on developing resistance to malaria? (65556)

My hon. Friend will have had a chance to read the detailed plan that has been set out. Britain is committed, over the next five years, to ensuring that the prevalence of malaria in the most affected countries is reduced by 50%. We believe that tackling malaria, which kills so many children needlessly every day, should be towards the top of our list of initiatives.

T2. I was privileged to be part of a delegation that visited the Democratic Republic of the Congo and monitored the last election there and I was really moved when I talked to women there about their experiences of rape and sexual violence. I would be very grateful if the Secretary of State would tell me what support he is managing to offer to Margot Wallstrom, the UN Secretary-General’s special envoy on sexual violence in conflict. (65552)

The hon. Lady is absolutely right. The tackling of sexual violence and violence against women is now embedded in all our bilateral programmes. In the DRC, the International Rescue Committee is doing outstanding work on this specific agenda, as I hope she will have seen during her visit. She has our commitment that the coalition Government have always said that putting girls and women at the forefront of our international development efforts is essential.

T7. Following President Obama’s decision to cut $800 million of aid to Pakistan, can the Secretary of State allay the concerns of some of my constituents that the UK’s aid budget there is necessary and is being well spent? (65557)

My hon. Friend is right. The $800 million is part of the US military budget. All of Britain’s aid that is spent in Pakistan, which is particularly focused on trying to get 4 million children, especially girls, into school, is not spent through the Government. We are very anxious to ensure that there is always accountability to the British public and that aid is transparently used. Those policies will continue.

T4. It is just 12 months since the devastating floods in Pakistan. Will the Secretary of State outline what support his Department has given to help rebuild that country? (65554)

The hon. Lady is right that the floods had a devastating effect in Pakistan as I have seen for myself on my frequent visits there. Britain was at the forefront of the countries coming to support Pakistan when the floods struck and we have been very strongly engaged, not least in helping people to continue their livelihoods and in getting children back into school in the aftermath of, and recovery from, those floods.

T8. In Afghanistan the depreciation of the afghani has sent the price of basic staples soaring by 7% in just one week. Has my right hon. Friend had conversations with the Afghanistan Government about how to improve food security, with the winter approaching? (65558)

My hon. Friend is right that across the world, not just in Afghanistan, the price of food, particularly staples, has rocketed in recent months and years. Britain is specifically engaged in Afghanistan in trying to help secure the wheat harvest and ensuring that farmers have wheat seeds to plant. We focus on this area keenly for precisely the reasons that she has set out.